===================The Reconquista (AD 722 − 1492)
Few if any could have foreseen the storm which came thundering across the Middle East from AD 633 onward. Fuelled by the religious zeal of the new faith of Islam, the Arab tribes − no longer scattered and divided − broke out of their isolation on the Arabian Peninsula and fell as conquerors upon Byzantine Syria and the Sassanid Empire. Within ten years time, the Arab hordes had smashed the Sassanids and claimed Persia in the name of Islam whereas in the west, Syria and Egypt had already fallen with equal efficiency, respectively in 638 and 642. Starting in 647, the Arab storm dashed further west across North Africa and less than fifty years later, Arab eyes beheld the Atlantic Ocean and the Straits of Gibraltar.
Resistance to Islam in North Africa was nevertheless fierce: the region and its people had been Christian for centuries and Byzantine-Roman power had been firmly restored since the defeat of the Vandals in 533. Furthermore, none of the Berber tribes − neither those who lived in cities and were loyal to Constantinople, nor the nomads which had opposed the Roman reconquest of Africa − were willing to welcome the invading forces of Islam. In any case, resistance proved pointless as the Byzantines were defeated and the Berbers conquered and largely converted. By 705, the entirety of the Maghreb had been subdued and pacified.
Next, the Arabs received news of the crisis tearing apart the Visigoth Kingdom in Iberia across the Straits of Gibraltar. Poised for new conquests, an army of around 7,000 converted Berbers crossed the Straits from Ceuta into Iberia in 711. After an easy victory at Jerez La Frontiera, the Muslims advanced largely unopposed to the royal abode of Toledo. With the help of 18,000 reinforcements, Muslim forces then raced north and captured Zaragoza within two years, occupied Catalonia, crossed the Pyrenees and invaded Septimania. Almost all of Iberia had been conquered by 718, although the Muslims failed to subdue the continued Christian resistance in the mountainous north. This allowed the Christians to found the Kingdom of Asturias that same year, launching a guerrilla campaign under their new King Pelayo and scoring a first humble victory at the Battle of Covadonga in 722 − the starting point of the Reconquista
, the Christian bid to reclaim Iberia and cast the Muslims back into Africa.
Islam’s rampage across Europe was finally halted in 732 at the famous Battle of Tours, where the Frankish forces of Charles Martel (‘The Hammer’) smashed the amassed Muslim forces of the Umayyad Caliphate, subsequently driving them back across the Pyrenees. Septimania was liberated in 751 and in 795, the Franks themselves crossed the Pyrenees under Charlemagne and established the Spanish March, which existed alongside the Kingdom of Asturias and protected Western Europe from renewed Muslim invasions. Resistance forces in the Spanish March, battling both the Franks and the Muslims, eventually allowed for the emergence of the Christian Kingdoms of Navarre (925) and Aragon (1035).
The Muslims never truly built a centralised state in Iberia, which they called Al-Andalus (Arabic: الأندلس), a name which already appeared on golden coins a few years after the 711 invasion. In the vast territories of their Iberian periphery they established marches and turned to indirect rule: the ‘high march’ (centred on Zaragoza) was ruled by a Visigoth vassal, the ‘middle march’ (centred on Toledo and subsequently in 946 on Medinaceli) was the battleground where Christian and Muslim raiding parties clashed time and again, the ‘lower march’ consisted of Extremadura and the central portion of future Portugal and was under a military government based at Merida. As the centuries progressed, Islamisation of Iberia’s native population kicked in: by the end of the eighth century, only one in eight people living in Iberia was Muslim; at the end of the ninth century one fifth had become Muslim; at the end of the tenth century, Muslims made up one third of Iberia’s population.
Muslim settlement of Iberia nevertheless had its fair share of internal dissent and struggles. The first wave of settlers had been Arabs from Northern Arabia, whom dominated the cities and enjoyed major privileges. Later waves of settlers were largely Arabs from Southern Arabia, whom had been adept at agriculture in their homeland and thus took over the Iberian countryside. They were called ‘new Muslims’. Among these people were sizeable numbers of North African people whom had been converted to Islam and absorbed into the Arab armies as they advanced west. Many Berbers settled in the countryside of Central Iberia, where they could continue their old way of life as cattle farmers. Other Berbers settled the regions of Murcia and Valencia, where they farmed by means of extensive irrigation, thus keeping alive the ancient Roman and Visigoth ways of agriculture.
Only one group hailed the Muslims as liberators of Iberia: the Jews. Having been ruthlessly persecuted under the Christian Visigoth government, they could henceforth live in considerable freedom and tolerance to their religion and customs, allowing their communities to prosper. The Christians themselves, though numerically superior and often less than sympathetic to their new masters, were also allowed remarkable freedom: Christian places of worship remained intact and functioned as before, the bishops were respected and Christian communities were given both far-going autonomy and the right to retain their Visigoth jurisdiction. Christians were considered ‘tributary’ (Arabic: ذمة, dhimmi
) to the Muslim lordship and − although they typically did not convert to Islam − in time many of them adapted their way of life, language and clothing to the Arabic culture. They were called mozarabs
(Arabic: مستعرب, musta’rib
). Those Christians who did convert to Islam did not gain any of the privileges or status of the original Muslims, though conversion definitely granted better chances at climbing the ladder of Muslim society, albeit always as a client.
The Muslims divided their Iberian core territory into provinces, modelled on the ancient Roman dioceses, and already in 716 made Córdoba their capital. Initially, power was vested in governors who answered to the rulers in Cairo and through them, the Caliph of Baghdad. However, the fall of the Umayyad Caliphate in 750 allowed for the de facto
independence of Islamic realms in the Maghreb and Iberia. The latter fell under the control of the Umayyad descendant Abd ar-Ramhan, who managed to establish the Emirate of Córdoba in 756. After decades-long uprisings among the ‘new Muslims’ in the mountainous southern provinces, Abd ar-Ramhan III in 929 proclaimed the Caliphate of Córdoba, strengthening his legitimacy as Umayyad descendant towards both the rebellious groups of Iberia and the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad.
Meanwhile in the north of Iberia, the Christian kingdoms consolidated and plotted to realise their greatest ideal: the Reconquista
. However, at the dawn of the tenth century they still had a very long way to go before being able to overpower the Muslims. The more than impressive cultural and economical achievements of Europe’s two superpowers, Islamic Al-Andalus and Orthodox Christian Byzantium, overshadowed anything the Latin Christian West had yet been able to accomplish. The combined power of Iberia’s Christian kingdoms had no means of rivalling Al-Andalus in the least.
In the countryside of Andalusia, Murcia and Valencia, agricultural production skyrocketed as a result of efficient use of irrigation while exports of spices, sugar, cotton, linen, grain, rice, wine and fruits brought untold riches and economic prosperity. Between 750 and 930, Córdoba’s treasuries increased from 300,000 to a staggering 5,480,000 dirhems
while the city itself developed into a metropolis with around 500,000 people, 3,000 mosques and 300 public baths. Its splendour was only outclassed by the might of Constantinople and matched by that of Baghdad and ultimately Cairo. By comparison, the cities of Latin Christian Europe typically housed little over a few hundred, sometimes a few thousand people and were of hardly any importance yet.
Relations between Al-Andalus and the Byzantine Empire were generally friendly, as both empires profited from mutual trade. Even with the coastal cities of the Latin West Córdoba maintained contacts which varied between formal trade relations and outright raids. Most importantly, the immense extent of the Islamic world allowed for de facto
free trade from Iberia to the eastern reaches of Persia, where Muslim forces were about to enter the Indian subcontinent. Contacts with the Far East thus became possible and cherished luxuries like silk and exotic spices made their way to Córdoba itself. These in turn allowed for the birth of pharmacology, in which the Arab scholars drew knowledge from and advanced the works of the Ancient Greek writers. The Muslims are thus credited with the creation of medicines based on natural gum, sugar, musk, nutmeg, clove and many others. The syrups and elixirs (Arabic: شراب, sharab
, الإكسير, al-ikseer
) they created saved the lives of thousands in Al-Andalus whom would have died in the Latin West.
Already in the eighth century, Islamic merchants used financial techniques the Latin West would adopt only centuries later: companies, credits, transfer and deposit of money, payment per cheque and reinvestment of capital. Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in harmony and tolerance alongside each other in the prosperous cities of Al-Andalus, where merchants worked to create fabled luxury products such as leather and metal ornaments, weapons, glass, paper, ceramics, silk -and textile carpets, etc. The court of Córdoba became one of the most prestigious places in the known world, housing the Great Mosque of La Mezquita and a legendary library of close to 400,000 bands (dwarfing the greatest libraries of the Latin West, Avignon and the Sorbonne, which in the fourteenth century held a mere 2,000 combined).
However, the magnificence of Al-Andalus was not to last. At the dawn of the eleventh century, the Caliphate of Córdoba plunged into a major succession crisis which resulted in nothing short of anarchy: the Caliphate was formally dissolved in 1031 and fell apart into so-called Taifas (Arabic: طائفة, ta'ifa)
, splinter kingdoms which each claimed a portion of Al-Andalus. The Christian kingdoms had long awaited an opportunity of this magnitude and seized it with both hands: King Alfonso IV of León-Castile launched a major campaign into Muslim territory, recapturing significant swathes of Iberia and enforcing tribute upon the Muslims. In 1085, Christian forces reconquered the key city of Toledo. Faced with increasing Christian successes, the rulers of Seville, Badajoz and Málaga called for help from Yusuf ben-Tasfin, the leader of a confederation of Berber tribes in Morocco which lived by puritan Islamic traditions: the Almoravids (Arabic: المرابطون, al-murabitun
). Having founded Marrakesh in 1070, they secured much of Morocco and conquered Tlemcen, Oran, Algiers and Ceuta. Between 1086 and 1114, the Almoravids succeeded in subduing the Taifa-kingdoms of Al-Andalus and subsequently advanced north into Catalonia and Aragon. Thus Al-Andalus was reunited under a powerful central government which halted the Christian Reconquista
However, the Almoravids’ religious dedication – not to say fanaticism – quickly made them unpopular: where Muslims, Christians and Jews had been living and working together for as long as the oldest man alive could remember, the Almoravids now introduced a far stricter Islamic regime which could generally count on little sympathy from all three religious groups. Furthermore, the Christian kingdoms in the north seemed less than impressed by the Almoravid rule of Al-Andalus, despite their earlier setbacks and continued interaction beyond the ideological and religious differences which drove the Reconquista
. Between 1125 and 1126, Alfonso I of Aragon led his armies deep into Al-Andalus and advanced as far south as Málaga, recapturing little territory but proving that Christian power had become great enough to challenge its enemies at will.
In 1147 the Almoravid Dynasty was overthrown in its Moroccan homeland, provoking the nobility of Al-Andalus to do the same. However, a new confederation of Berber tribes emerged, one far more fanatical than the Almoravids had been and one which held ‘jihad’ (Arabic: جهاد, djihād
) to be its principal ideal. They called themselves the Almohads (Arabic: الموحدون, al-muwahhidun
), the ‘unitarists’, and were driven by religious fanaticism and intolerance to any who believed differently, both within and beyond Islam. The Almohad leader Abd al-Mu’min proclaimed himself Caliph, reunited the Berber tribes of the Maghreb and led an expedition into Iberia already in 1147, successfully capturing Seville, Córdoba, Jaen, Málaga, Granada and Almería and establishing Almohad rule in Iberia. From 1172 onward, the Almohads ruled Al-Andalus unopposed and proved themselves as efficient administrators and organisers, effectively reconsolidating Al-Andalus in the face of the increasingly aggressive Christian kingdoms. However, Almohad intolerance caused many Jews to flee east to Egypt while sizeable numbers of Christians chose to forsake the new Al-Andalus and join the Reconquista
instead. The Almohads’ policy of reconsolidation did bring success against the Christian kingdoms, which had reconquered approximately half the Iberian Peninsula when the Almohads seized power. In 1195, the Almohads stood victorious against Castile at the Battle of Alarcos, conquering the important cities of Trujillo, Cuenca and Uclés. Next in 1211, a massive Almohad army crossed from Morocco into Iberia to reinforce the war effort against the Reconquista. It did not avail them: in the fateful year 1212, the combined forces of Castile, Aragon, Navarre and Portugal (aided by crusaders from France and Italy) completely obliterated the Almohads at the famous Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. This was the turning point of Islam’s fortunes in Iberia: only the south remained firmly under Muslim rule. The Emirate of Granada provided refuge to the majority of the Muslims, whom now fled in the face of the Christian advance. The densely populated remains of Muslim Iberia continued to be a place of both cultural and economic splendour, despite the defeats, the vast territorial losses and the de facto
vassalage to Castile.
On the Christian side, southward expansion happened along three parallel axes. In the west, the Kingdom of Portugal had emerged in 1137 and led the Reconquista
along the Atlantic coast, capturing Santarem in 1146 and Lisbon in 1147 before gradually advancing south. Faro was finally reached in 1249, establishing the Portuguese borders which would remain unchanged down into the present era. The central axis consisted of the kingdoms of León and Castile which had united in 1230 (after two previous unions) and spearheaded the reconquest of the bulk of Iberia. After the decisive Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, Castile captured the strategically important cities of Baeza (1227) and Ubeda (1233) and from there launched a major offensive against the ailing Muslim power. The great city of Córdoba fell in 1236, followed by key cities such as Murcia in 1243, Jaén in 1246, Seville in 1248, Cadiz in 1262, among many others. In the west, Aragon constituted the third axis of the Reconquista, gradually conquering territory along the Mediterranean coast, including the Balearic Isles (by 1235). The Reconquista thus consisted of the three folded march of Portugal, Castile and Aragon, advancing alongside and sometimes against each other. The division of the three advancing powers was furthermore apparent in the language barriers they carved out: Portuguese in the west, Castilian Spanish in the centre and Catalan in the east.
Aside from the Muslim power and the occasional conflicts among the Christian realms, the greatest obstacle to the Reconquista was the Christian inability to (re)populate the recaptured swathes of countryside. This often caused the Christians to act relatively tolerant towards the remaining Muslims (Spanish: mudéjares
): they were allowed to retain their social position, their local autonomy and their religious customs, so long as they continued agriculture (hence the Spanish saying ‘qui tiene moro tiene oro’
; ‘he who has a Moor has gold’). In the valley of the Ebro and in the region of Valencia, Muslims even constituted a majority population under Christian rule. This forced the Christian monarchs to be lenient towards the Muslims and rely on the local Christian lords to keep them in check, which gradually undermined royal authority and paved the way for the considerable power of the Castilian and Aragonese nobility, especially in the countryside.
At the front, the Christian forces needed another two centuries before being able to recapture all of Iberia and complete the Reconquista. Crucial to this was the 1479 personal union between the Crowns of Castile and Aragon resulting from the marriage of their respective heirs apparent: Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II. Thus the foundations were laid for the Kingdom of Spain. More importantly, the union of Castile-Aragon provoked a renewed vigour to finally complete the Reconquista by conquering the Emirate of Granada, already a vassal of the Crown of Castile. Christian forces invaded in 1482 and soon made crucial progress, capturing Marbella in 1485, Málaga in 1487 and Almería in 1488 before arriving at the city of Granada itself in 1491. After the decisive battle, the Emirate of Granada surrendered to Isabella and Ferdinand on 2 January 1492. Its territory was formally annexed into the Crown of Castile, ending the Reconquista after 770 years.Timeline711-718
Muslim armies invade Iberia, smash the ailing Visigothic power and advance ever further north, but fail to subdue the peninsula completely.722
Battle of Covadonga: Christian forces of the Kingdom of Asturias halt the Muslim advance, commencing the Reconquista
Battle of the River Garonne: Muslim forces cross the Pyrenees, invade Aquitaine and defeat the Christian forces of Odo of Aquitaine − Battle of Tours: Frankish forces under Charles Martel drive the Muslims back across the Pyrenees, confining them to Iberia.756
The Emirate of Córdoba is established.759
Pepin the Short drives the Muslims out of Septimania after the Siege of Narbonne.795
Charlemagne establishes the Spanish March to defend his empire against renewed Muslim incursions.850
Christian forces initiate the reconquest and repopulation of lands south of the River Duero.910
The Kingdom of Asturias moves its capital from Oviedo to León, becoming the Kingdom of León.925
The Kingdom of Navarre is established, centred on Pamplona.929
The Emirate of Córdoba becomes the Caliphate of Córdoba.931
Fernán González rebels against Leónese authority and creates the autonomous County of Castile.981
The Kingdom of León is defeated at the Battle of Rueda and agrees to pay tribute to the Caliph of Córdoba.1031
The Caliphate of Córdoba falls apart into numerous so-called Taifa kingdoms.1035
The Counties of Castile and Aragon become kingdoms.1037
The Kingdoms of León and Castile unite for the first time (until 1065).1064
Ferdinand I of León-Castile reconquers Coimbra and forces the Muslims of Seville, Toledo and Badajoz to pay tribute. At his death, he grants León and Castile respectively to his sons Alfonso VI and Sancho II.1072
Alfonso VI reunites León and Castile.1085
The forces of Alfonso VI recapture the key city of Toledo, ending the Taifa of Toledo.1086
Battle of Sagrajas: the new Almoravid dynasty defeats the Christian advance and takes over Muslim Iberia.1118
Alfonso I of Aragon reconquers Zaragoza.1139
The County of Portugal becomes a kingdom.1146
The Almohad Caliphate replaces the Almoravids and begins to establish control of Muslim Iberia, moving the capital from Córdoba to Seville.1147
Lisbon is reconquered.1147
The union between León and Castile ends for a second time.1162
Alfonso II, son of Petronila and Ramon Berenguer IV, unites in his person the kingdom of Aragon and the County of Barcelona.1195
Battle of Alarcos: the Almohads defeat Castile.1212
Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa: coalition forces of León, Castile, Aragon, Portugal and Navarre smash the Almohads, initiating a rapid southward advance of Christian power.1229-1235
Aragonese forces reconquer the Balearic Islands.1270
Christian forces have been on the offensive for decades, recapturing the key cities of Badajoz (1228), Córdoba (1236), Valencia (1238), Jaen (1246), Seville (1248) and Cadiz (1262), among many others. Granada remains as the only independent Muslim state on the Iberian Peninsula.1309
Ferdinand IV of Castile recaptures Gibraltar.1340
Battle of Río Salado: Portuguese-Castilian coalition forces destroy the Moroccan Marinid invasion of Iberia, ending the possibility of a Muslim counter-offensive from North Africa.1469
Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon marry, bringing the Crowns of Castile and Aragon into a union and laying the foundation for the Kingdom of Spain. 1484
Castile and Aragon launch the final campaign of the Reconquista
against the Emirate of Granada.1491
The Siege of Granada begins.1492
Fall of Granada: Castile and Aragon defeat the final Muslim resistance, completing the Reconquista after 770 years. The Emirate of Granada is annexed into the Crown of Castile.© 2013 – 2015 undevicesimus.deviantart.com